Economics and politics - comment and analysis

Poor miserable Little England. EU immigrants and the refugee ‘crisis’

The legal position of EU migrants in the UK is once again unclear

On October 19th, a majority of MPs voted against EU nationals living in the UK retaining rights, including the right to live and work in the UK, should the UK leave the EU. The motion rejected by the majority of MPs in this vote was that the House of Commons:

  • recognises the contribution that nationals from other countries in the EU have made to the UK; and
  • calls on the Government to ensure that all nationals from other countries in the EU who have made the UK their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in the UK, should the UK exit the EU (see here).

MPs voted 293 to 250 against the non-binding early day motion put forward by Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry (Scottish National Party). This means that the legal position of the EU nationals to live and work in the UK is now again fundamentally insecure. As Cherry told Parliament:”It is nearly four months since the EU referendum, and the long-term status of non-UK EU nationals living in the United Kingdom is still unclear (…) The status of millions of our fellow workers, friends and neighbours is uncertain. That is simply not good enough” (see here).

“In the meantime,” she went on to say, “in England and Wales hate crime has soared and xenophobic rhetoric is common in the mainstream media and, sadly, sometimes in the mouths of Ministers” (see here). Minister for Immigration Robert Goodwill responded by stating the government aspires to protect the interests of EU citizens living in the UK. He told the House: “My job this afternoon is to reassure the House of our aspirations to protect the interests of EU citizens living in the UK and to counter some of the scaremongering that we have just heard” (see here).

This seems to be an easy job. It suffices to give a reassurance that EU nationals can stay. The truth is of course that millions of EU migrants have become a playing ball in political negotiations. Goodwill criticised Cherry’s motion for stating “should the UK exit the EU” instead of “when the UK exit the UK”. He reiterated May’s pledge that “Brexit means Brexit.” We will see.

The refugee ‘crisis’ or how low some will sink

As Natalie Bloomer writes in Politics.co.uk, it should have been a moment to make us proud: finally, Britain is beginning to reunite children who had been stranded in the Calais jungle with their families. It did not take long for a torrent of hate to erupt (see here). It does not come from the tattooed skinheads with their swastikas, the xenophobes and the racists who do nothing else than rant about foreigners on social media. It is ‘decent,’ mainstream politicians and the press who lead the attack.

“These don’t look like “children” to me. I hope British hospitality is not being abused,” tweeted the Conservative MP David Davies. This was followed by him posting a video of his visit to the Calais jungle with the comment “Didn’t see any children in the camp, just young men & activists offering advice what to say to get into UK”. Research has shown that there are at least 1.000 unaccompanied children in Calais whose family members are the UK (see here).

The storm broke out after fourteen (14) youngsters arrived by bus at the Home Office in South London, where they will be reunited with relatives which are already in Britain. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries asked: “Are we only accepting male ‘child’ refugees into the U.K? Once again, Britain’s hospitality abused”. Because, you know, they may be rapists (see here).

Nigel Farage, who is UKIP leader this week again –  tweeted: “Pictures of the ‘child’ refugees entering from Calais prove the need to verify who is coming into our country.”A look at the Twitter time lines of Labour MP Stella Creasy or the Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker will shows the anger that is provoked by anybody who dares to question this rhetoric. When Gary Lineker had the temerity to ask for humaneness, empathy and argued that these people should be helped, thousands rushed to the internet to post abuse, as I said, not only the tattooed skinheads. MEP Patrick O’Flynn suggested Lineker should lose his job over his views. “If Mr Lineker wants to be Lib-Left political voice then fair enough, but get him off MOTD” (Match of the day) please,” he tweeted (see here).

The truth is that the UK has nothing to complain about and that the criticism of other countries like Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Italy and Greece has been fully justified: the UK did not do its part, very far from it.

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Figure 1: Asylum applications per 100.000 of local population January-October 2015. The UK is last.

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Figure 2: Granted asylum claims per 100.000 of local population, Janurary-October 2015. The UK is last. 

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Figure 3: EU asylum in perspective. Asylum applications in the UK were 4.5% of the European total.

The message is clear. We do not care what any of these people went through, regardless of age, we do not want them here, they do deserve our help and the last thing we will do is to recognise our own role in generating the refugee crisis in the first place.

This egoism, xenophobia and racism and lack of elementary human empathy are by no means new. There are several extremely good and chilling documentaries on YouTube, made by the late Jamaican born Open University lecturer in sociology Stuart Hall on racism in the UK in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980. It has always been there, right beneath the surface. There is no doubt, that a faltering economy and the ‘culture’ of neoliberalism made everything much worse – the pernicious and barbarian view that ‘you get from life what you deserve’ – just world theory (see Avnar Offer (see here)). If your house in Syria is being bombed, it is your fault, although it is us who do the bombing. There is also no doubt that the Brexit referendum made everything worse than it already was. Racist ‘opinions’ have become mainstream under the guise of having “legitimate concerns” about immigration (see here).

As Mark Steel, the comedian, writes, that when you see the rage and fury from politicians and newspapers about whether the child refugees that are being allowed in are actually children, it makes you proud that were are a Christian nation, “(b)ecause we all remember the sermon of Jesus in which he said: ‘Let the suffering children come, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these – but not that bastard, he’s 19’” (see here).

The problem, as Steel sees it, is that we agreed to let children in, but that those who are coming are not the ones we ordered: “We were expecting a cute four-year-old with a leg missing and a broken teddy. What’s the point in saving someone’s life if they turn out to be 23 and wearing a hood?” (see here).

Varoufakis made the same point on the BBC two days ago. He said that in the 1990s, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, more than one million immigrants ended up in Greece in a matter of a couple of years – ‘they never left again,’ he said ‘and they made Greece a better place.’ There was loud applause when he said that. When a UKIP representative said that the UK should only let in children, Varoufakis called her a hypocrite. There was loud applause again.

I cannot refrain myself from quoting Steel once more when he describes the mentality: “’I’m as compassionate as anyone (…) (b)ut if some Afghan whose village has been shelled by warlords and had to live in a cave eating lizards carries his own mother across Hungary and then tries to come over here saying he’s 17 when he’s clearly 19, I’d be the first to strap him to a pedalo with masking tape and drop the ungrateful cockroach in the North Sea” (see here).

That is right. Everything for Little England. But enough fun now. Let’s look at some numbers.

The number of asylum applicants in some European countries

A record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in the 28 member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 – the following figures are by the Pew Research Center analysis of data from Eurostat (see here). Today, Eastern European countries like Kosovo and Albania still contribute to the overall flow of asylum seekers into the EU, Norway and Switzerland, but about half of refugees in 2015 trace their origins to just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Conflicts in each of these states have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Some have been displaced within their homelands; others have sought refuge in neighbouring countries; and still others have made the often perilous journey to Europe (and elsewhere) to seek asylum (see here).

Since 2012, Germany has been the primary destination country for asylum seekers in Europe, receiving 442,000 asylum applications in 2015 alone. Following Germany, Hungary (174,000 applications) and Sweden (156,000 applications) received the highest number of asylum applications in 2015. Meanwhile, France (71,000) and the UK (39,000) received roughly the same number of applications in 2015 as in years just prior to the refugee surge in 2015 (see here).

In 2015, the EU-28 plus Norway and Switzerland had 250 asylum applicants per 100,000 residents. By comparison, Hungary had 1,770 applicants per 100,000 people (the highest of any country). Sweden had 1,600 applicants per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, Germany had 540 applicants per 100,000 people, more than double the European average. By contrast, France had only 110 applicants per 100,000 people in its total population in 2015 and the UK had only 60 asylum seeker applicants per 100,000 people (see here).

Since 1985, Europe received about 11.6 million asylum applications – meaning that last year’s 1.3 million amounted to about one-tenth of all applications received during the past 30 years by current EU countries, Norway and Switzerland. Refugees from Syria numbered 378,000 in 2015, accounting for 29% of all of Europe’s asylum seekers – the highest share of any nation. This was up from 125,000 in 2014 and 49,000 in 2013, helping to drive the recent surge in asylum applications. An additional quarter of asylum seekers in 2015 were from other relatively new origin countries, including 193,000 from Afghanistan (up from 23,000 in 2013 and 39,000 in 2014) and another 127,000 from Iraq (up from 9,000 in 2013 and 15,000 in 2014) (see here).

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Figure 4: EU plan of May 2016, quotas of refugees from Italy and Greece that should be relocated to other member states. The UK opted out.

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Figure 5: The EU Commission proposal to relocate refugees in more detail. 

Impacts of migration and asylum seekers on the European population 

Even though a record number of asylum seekers arrived in Europe in 2015, the surge has had a limited impact on the share of the overall resident population in the EU and Norway and Switzerland that is foreign born. That share is up only 0.3 percentage points, from 11.0% foreign born in 2015 to 11.3% in 2016. It has had a bigger impact in leading destination countries like Sweden, Hungary and Austria, whose foreign-born shares rose by more than 1 percentage point in a single year. Although Europe has received a large number of Syrian asylum seekers since the Syrian conflict began, only about one-in-ten displaced Syrians are living in Europe. The vast majority is internally displaced within Syria or is living as refugees in countries that border Syria (see here).

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Figure 6: The main refugee taking up countries in the world in 2013.

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Figure 7: The main refugee taking up countries in the world 2014 (Soure: UNHRC). 

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Figure 8: The countries with the highest numbers of refugees per capita.

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Figure 9: The relocation of Syrian refugees (Source: UNHRC). 

Here is a list of the GDP (PPP) per capita (based on figures from the World bank (here) and the CIA (here) in 2015 US$): Pakistan: $ 5.000; Lebanon: $ 13.930; Jordan: $ 12.100; Greece: $ 26.400; Chad: $ 2.182; Turkey: 20.400; Iran: $ 17.300, UK $ 41.235.

Financing the refugee ‘crisis’

According to Pew, the financial help that refugees get has sparked divisions in the EU, as migrants flock to countries with the most favourable regimes in the absence of a common policy. I seriously doubt that this is the main reason why asylum seekers try to reach for example Germany. The main drive is probably not financial aid – although this is essential for people in distress – but the possibility they see of building up a new life. It is then clear why many refugees go to Germany. Flassbeck highlighted this in several publications, adding the crucial point that public investment for the construction of new accommodation for refugees would provide a necessary stimulus to construction in Germany and to domestic demand (see, for example, here and here). It is fundamentally one-sided and incorrect to only consider the cost-side of the refugee ‘crisis.’ New people bring opportunities with them, competences, they become economically active, they set up new businesses.

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Figure 10: Europe’s demographics.

Below is a rundown of aid available to asylum seekers in major EU nations (see here and here).

GERMANY: In the first seven months of 2015, a total of 218,221 requests for asylum were registered in Germany, compared with 202,834 for the whole of 2014. Basic needs – housing, food, clothes and health care – are covered by initial welcome centres.  Asylum seekers receive €143 per month per adult for personal needs. Syrians benefit from extra protection (see here).

SWEDEN: Sweden has the highest proportion of asylum seekers per thousand inhabitants: at 8.4, compared with 1.2 for the EU as a whole. Asylum seekers can request a daily allowance while waiting for their request to be processed. This is worth between €60 to €225 a month per adult depending on their personal situation, such as whether they are single or part of a larger family. Minors receive between €36 and €159 a month. Asylum seekers are housed either in a reception centre or find lodging themselves, in which case they receive a monthly allowance of €37 for someone who is single, and up to €89 for a family (see here).

FRANCE: France registered 37,919 asylum requests in the first seven months of 2015. The number has dropped recently however. In 2014, France reported a decline of 5% while the rest of the EU showed an increase of 44%.Two types of aid are provided. Adults who are not housed in reception centres receive a monthly allowance of €340.50 while their application is being considered. Asylum seekers receive health care, and children aged between six and 16 must attend school (see here).

AUSTRIA: Requests for asylum jumped by 60% in 2014 to 28,035. Asylum seekers receive medical care, and one of two kinds of assistance. Either they are housed and fed at a reception centre and receive €40 per month or they are offered independent accommodation along with more money to buy food and basic necessities. They can only do seasonal work, like fruit picking. Asylum requests for Syrians are handled more quickly than those of other nationalities (see here).

ROMANIA: Asylum seekers each receive 3 lei (€0.67) per day for food and 1.8 lei (€0.40) per day for accommodation. Another 6 lei (€1.35) per day is awarded for other expenses. They also benefit from free primary medical care and emergency hospital care, as well as free treatment in case of acute or chronic diseases (see here).

BRITAIN: In 2014, the country took in 31,745 asylum seekers, ca. seven times less than Germany. Refugees in Britain are often offered housing, but rarely in London or the wealthy southeast of England. They can also receive a weekly allowance of £36.95 per person (see here).

The only solution to the refugee ‘crisis’ is to have a democratic debate on it, based on valid figures and macroeconomic, demographic and sociological insights and analyses, but how is this possible when part of the country loses its mind when fourteen refugees come in to be reunited with their families? The madness makes a rational debate impossible. The problem cannot be solved without an overhaul of international policies – the Middle East has to be pacified, not bombed. The problem cannot be solved without a reboot of the European economy either. If the economy would reboot, it is well possible that we need these people. And this has still nothing to do with the principle, accepted by all civilized (and so-called civilized) countries that people have the right to ask asylum when their life is in danger. This is one of the most fundamental human rights and the correct implementation of it would be the least of our worries if we would all work together.